Billy Napier used the word “commitment” many times Monday during his official introduction as Louisiana-Lafayette’s head football coach, saying it was the university’s commitment to the football program that made him eager for the chance to lead the Ragin’ Cajuns.
“It’s been my dream to be a head coach for a long time,” Napier said Monday as he was introduced to Cajuns supporters and fans at the Cajundome. “But it had to be the right fit. I’ve been in this state from a recruiting standpoint for the last four or five years, and certainly there’s a buzz about the commitment level from this community. There’s commitment here, and there’s an alignment here. There’s tremendous passion within the fan base, and I can see that commitment.”
The term “right fit” was also used repeatedly by UL-Lafayette athletic director Bryan Maggard, who along with school president Dr. E. Joseph Savoie introduced Napier on Monday.
“A lot of it’s just about fit and feel,” Maggard said. “The men who were serious candidates, we know they can coach. I’m not an X’s and O’s guy, but what I do look at is leadership ability, fit, feel, and making sure someone’s going to be a person of integrity, cares about our student-athletes, has a record of winning on a high level and who is a great recruiter.
“During my first meeting with Billy, I quickly noticed the high level of focus and intelligence. It became very clear who should be the next leader of our football program.”
Napier was hired Friday as the 26th head coach in UL-Lafayette history, coming from a position as associate head coach and offensive coordinator at Arizona State. His hiring ended a two-week search after the Dec. 3 firing of seven-year Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth.
Napier, who served seven years on the Clemson staff and four years at Alabama before going to Arizona State, arrived in Lafayette on Sunday with his wife Ali and their three children.
“The passion and enthusiasm that has been shown since we arrived yesterday has been tremendous,” Napier said. “We’re extremely appreciative and humbled by that. It’s important you know that I look forward to and I take seriously this challenge here. I’m well aware of the expectations that we have here, but trust me, no one has higher expectations for what we’re trying to accomplish than me.”
Napier said the university’s pledge to the program is shown by current and planned facilities, as well as budgetary increases that include a $2 million pool for assistant coach salaries.
“They get what needs to be done to make that next step,” he said. “People know what this place is capable of, and everything we’re doing is a big statement about that level of commitment.”
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Napier’s contract is for five years through 2022, with a mutual option for a one-year rollover after the first year. His first-year salary is $850,000 plus car and phone allowance, with $250,000 from state coffers, $500,000 from the Ragin’ Cajuns Athletic Foundation (RCAF) and a $100,000 annual contribution by the university to a designated fund. The salary increases by $25,000 after the first year, $50,000 after the second, $75,000 after the third and $100,000 after the fourth.
Incentives include $25,000 for a bowl appearance, $25,000 for a Sun Belt Conference divisional title, $50,000 for a Sun Belt overall championship, $100,000 for a New Year’s Six bowl appearance and $150,000 for a win there. There is a $25,000 academic incentive and incentives for winning Coach of the Year honors in the state and conference.
Maggard said the $2 million assistant coach salary pool was the largest in the Sun Belt.
“When I was analyzing our existing pool,” Maggard said, "I wanted to make sure that we surround our next head coach with quality coaches. There’s only one way to do that and that’s through compensation. We need to establish this position to be a destination job, that’s my goal, and one way to do that is through compensation.”
If Napier leaves for another job, he will owe UL-Lafayette $2.75 million after the first year, $2 million after the second, $1.25 million after the third, $750,000 after the fourth and $500,000 after the fifth year.
Napier did not comment on individual staff hirings during the press conference, but he confirmed afterward that Rob Sale would be joining him from the Arizona State staff. Sale, who was the Sun Devils’ offensive line coach and running game coordinator for one year, is a Monroe native and former three-year offensive line starter at LSU (1999-2002).
Sale, who coached the offensive line at Georgia and was on the Alabama staff, was UL-Monroe’s offensive line coach in 2016 and was on the McNeese staff from 2012-14.
“We’ll have a couple of announcements on that in the near future,” Napier said of his staff. “We’re going to put together a dynamic staff, guys that have had tremendous success.”
Whoever those staffers are, Napier made it clear who would call plays offensively.
“I’ll handle the play-calling and run the offense,” he said, “to be honest because I love to do that. I love the competition, I love the strategy that goes with that. First and foremost, I love the interaction with the players doing that.”
Napier said the NCAA-allowed addition of a 10th assistant coach after Jan. 1 will allow him to equally divide the staff.
“We’re going to have five on defense and five on offense, and somewhere in there will be a special-teams coordinator,” he said. “I’ll be heavily involved with the quarterbacks with my background. We’ll split up the linebackers and split up the secondary. We will have more people than most have on defense.”
No bowl trip
Contrary to early published reports, Napier will not be a part of ASU’s preparations for the Dec. 29 Sun Bowl against North Carolina State. He said he will remain in Lafayette the rest of this week to meet with current Cajuns football and support staffers, hire new staff members and manage recruiting for the early signing period before returning to Tempe, Arizona, for a brief Christmas holiday.
“I wanted to make sure the transition for my family was smooth,” he said. “We’ll get the family moved down after Christmas and start working.”
Maggard said former Cajuns and NFL quarterback Jake Delhoome was an adviser during the search.
“To be honest, I love the fact that he’s not coaching the bowl game,” Delhomme said. “That’s selfish on my part I know, but he’s got to get himself and his staff and everybody here. I thought that was a good decision.”